Clare McDowell
Designing Tasks to assess Listening skills

Accurately assessing listening comprehension in the artificial environment of a language test is not straightforward if you want your test to be both valid and reliable. In other words, if you want it to work. The challenge is to replicate authentic-like discourse over a range of situations, speakers and registers, and appropriate listening tasks which enable the test-takers to demonstrate what they have understood, not simply what they have heard. Has the message been received?

In this session, we will consider which item types work best with which text types: monologue -v- dialogue, academic genre -v- transactional or casual interactions and whether we are focusing on exact word recognition or overall meaning through understanding paraphrase. Bearing in mind that testing involves compromises, among them the need to create a watertight key, we will look at some of the more effective and reliable ways of generating tasks, including the scripts themselves, drawn from a range of published sources or from personal experience of how spoken discourse works.

We will focus predominantly on material at IELTS Band 5 and above with an emphasis on IELTS item types though other tests may be discussed. Participants should leave the workshop with a good grasp of how test theory underpins their choice of texts and items and how to create their own useful tests. Understanding how different item types work should also help teachers to prepare their learners for a range of listening tasks.

Clare McDowell’s career spans 35 years of ELT practice, from classroom teaching to language testing and test design together with examiner training as a former IELTS Principal Examiner, and hands-on test management. She has been an item writer for a number of English tests and has a particular interest in the area of listening skills and how best to assess them. She was Local Secretary for the University of Cambridge in Australia for 23 years, and oversaw the delivery of the Cambridge English exams which involved all aspects of test management. She has successfully co-authored a wide range of course books with her UK based colleague Vanessa Jakeman, for the IELTS classroom and self-study. These books enjoy world-wide recognition and include New Insight into IELTS, Action Plan for IELTS and Step Up to IELTS (CUP) among others. She lives in Sydney and offers consultancy services to the ELT sector including occasional lectures and workshops in the field.